Yesterday, in the New York clubs — Salmagundi Art Students League, the Society of Illustrators — I was cruising historical and current members’ work, listening to wisps of conversation, digging in archives, wandering down memory lane.
Howard Pyle (1853-1911) came to New York from Wilmington, Delaware, in 1873. Pyle arrived at the right time and instinctively recognized the power of pictures for everyone,” says Pyle’s biographer, Henry Pitz. Beyond his success in magazine and book illustration Pyle had a large influence on a generation of American artists. His students included N.C. Wyeth, Violet Oakley, Harvey Dunn, Stanley Arthurs, Frank Schoonover and many others. No Pyle student ever forgot him — nor could they ever stop quoting him. What were the qualities that made him the prince of empowerment? What was his advice that might be of value to some painters today?
— Develop a sense of history.
— Seek your training close to home.
— Respect books, picture-books and reading.
— Engage in writing as a parallel skill.
— Research your interests thoroughly.
— Seek truth and correctness in settings.
— Put in time to get your drawing right.
— Sketch first to find the focal center.
— Be vigorous and stand up to work.
— Commit to the highest of possibilities.
— See the drama and theatre in your subjects.
— Depict basic emotions — grief, pride, greed, etc.
— Look for new ways to see and tell a story.
— Don’t let reality destroy your imagination.
— Be an eyewitness to vivid experiences.
— Simplify compositions and waste little.
— Don’t ask opinions from those you don’t respect.
— Be idealistic in your life and picture making.
— Be willing to share and pass the torch.
— Be willing to mentor and teach without fee.
After writing this sum-up of Pyle’s thinking, I went back and had a look at a letter I wrote about his student N.C. Wyeth. The torch was indeed passed.
PS: “I can be of use to the younger artists through the advice and criticism which I give them. It is likely that some of my pupils will reach unusual distinction.” (Howard Pyle)
Esoterica: The idea of teaching for free has some merit. An individualistic, successful and non-tenured artist leads well by showing and demonstrating. His cryptic critique and practical insight are respected. He need only take on students with potential. His independent spirit is part of the inspiration. He need not be troubled with curriculum that is best learned privately from books. He can walk out of a lecture room or workshop without feeling the slightest pang of guilt, and he can never be accused of anything but the love of making art.
Combination of opposites
by Odette Nicholson
Howard Pyle infected my childhood. I had no idea! Isn’t it ironic and maybe appropriate that I remembered his images but not his name! I probably saw his work before I was 10 years old. I grew up in a small city with few places to see Art — the public library and church!
Now that I’m grown up and a painter myself, seeing these paintings again reminds me of why I can love his work; each image is incredibly complete. As a child I would not have known why I responded. I had no idea that these so familiar (to me) pictures were all made by the same person until I viewed them this morning on your clickback.
As a professional artist I know why I like Pyle’s work. The use of the abstract and surface in illustrative images, almost like two paintings in one; the combination of opposites are what make the work so strong.
DuPont sponsorship fired him up
by Bob Martin
Howard Pyle affected not only a lot of people on that notorious list but people like me. When I was in High School in Penna I won the opportunity to study two days a week at The Delaware Art Museum. There were about 12 of us who studied with a group of resident artists in the basement of the building. It was funded by one of the DuPonts (who, I now thank profusely). Upstairs in the galleries, Howard Pyle’s paintings spoke to each one of us weekly as we spent time sketching. This was one of the better times in my life. I did not follow the craft and art imparted to me. I went into television and motion picture production but the experience lived with me and can be seen in my composing of images. Howard Pyle paintings and those days with those great artists I studied under still excite me.
by Girish Kumar, Kerala, India
It is very nice to talk about life and creativity. In this world of brutal humanity, what is this Art, this Life, this Humanity? What is Non-violence? What is passion and love? And Peace? I think your twice weekly letter is a consumer product. Life is beyond death and the creative spirituality is beyond everything. Don’t be mysterious about life or art. We will have to undress our mind instead of wearing new dresses on our ornamental bodies. We will have to silence the background music. We all have so many prejudices in our thinking. We should try to share.
Appropriation by art therapist
by Orythia Johnson
As an artist and an art therapist I found that this message covered a lot of territory. “Research your interests thoroughly and seek truth and correctness in settings” can be appropriated to both the artist and the art therapist. Obviously many of the other twenty qualities have this dual role, such as mentor without fee, and engage in writing as a parallel skill, and stand up to work.
Pyle helps quilter
by Kathy Kansier, Ozark, MS, USA
I’m a quilt maker, quilt show judge, teacher and quilt appraiser. I joined your Painter’s Keys Community because I find myself judging and appraising art quilts and want to learn more about color and design. Your list of Howard Pyle’s ideas is extremely helpful to me because it causes me to think outside my box. I came to quilting from a sewing background — not an art background. I’m better at understanding the “craft” of making quilts than the “art” of making quilts. I give lectures in color and design. Your letters help me to grow.
Value of mentoring
by Jim Norman
I was struck by the “advice list” of Howard Pyle. Looking at the background, training and parallel skills of artists (from my standpoint, photographers) has always been fascinating. Many photographers are writers, doctors, lawyers and teachers who need a creative outlet in order to avoid professional burnout. The skills they obtained in their professional training and exercise in their “non-artistic” endeavors contribute in many ways to their creativity and point of view in their art. Mentoring, in my view, is an indispensable requirement for an artist’s growth. Through mentoring, not only are skills and experience shared, but the essential re-examination of one’s own work and techniques make mentoring well worth doing, even from a self-centered point of view.
The art of Harvey Dunn
by Marie Louise Tesch, Black Hills, SD, USA
I can see the direct effect of Pyle’s teaching when I look at the paintings of one of his most successful students, Harvey Dunn. What brave brushwork! Makes you want to get out a big canvas and just go after it with paint. I pine for the opportunity to study with someone like Howard Pyle. For most of the last century, many artists (and schools) looked down their nose at “mere illustrators.” Today, I think we are beginning to realize just how much we can learn from their methods.
The art of Dean Cornwell
by Larry Moore, Orlando, FL, USA
As an illustrator and a painter I can attest to the legacy of Howard Pyle. I’ve studied his work extensively as well as the work of his proteges and theirs; N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth, Harvey Dunn and Dean Cornwell to name a few. His influence is evident throughout the first half of the last century. Almost lost is the art of the realist narrative that he mastered. We have the good fortune of having a collection of about 15 Dean Cornwell paintings here in Orlando that I have stared at until I was kicked out. The artist’s ability to compose a scene, direct the eye and tell a story is a pleasure to behold. I would submit that most every artist in the realist mode would do well to research the treasures of Howard Pyle. How about a group trip to the Brandywine Museum?
(RG note) One day I’ll write a letter about Dean Cornwell. He, in turn, was also influenced by the Belgian/English painter Frank Brangwyn. A few years ago I bought a big Brangwyn oil in London and hung it in our dining room. Same thing. I lingered over that painting for many hours. It was so good that it made me eat too much and I had to kick myself out. Regarding the Brandywine trip — that’s something I’ve always wanted to do — hang out in Chadds Ford. See you there sometime?
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA
Many Howard Pyle originals are on display at The Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Also in the area is the DuPont Estate, not far from Philadelphia. Plus the Barnes Collection of Impressionists and the Philadelphia Museum of Art make this an art-dense destination. One of Pyle’s other outstanding students not mentioned in the piece was Norman Rockwell (self-portrait). There is a fine museum dedicated to his work in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. One may not care for the content of their work in these times as artists fall in and out of favor, but they both captured an era and the canvases are fantastically executed with extraordinary skill. The originals radiate like no printed reproduction can.
Value of a public artist
by Patrice Federspiel, Honolulu, HI, USA
I demo-paint 3-5 times a week. It has become my way of painting. I paint and sell originals and prints at a local hotel. I almost never paint in private any more. Recently I was having a no-sale day while doing a really loose rendition of two anthuriums. Suddenly a woman was standing next to me and watching me paint. For some reason, whatever we started to talk about struck a deep chord in her and she got all teary-eyed. She mentioned Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way and relayed a distant memory of an art teacher throwing an eraser at her in an effort to stop her from asking too many questions. Her questions had been real and this art teacher had not only stopped them, but helped to stop her pursuit of art.
I knew then that the reason I had gone to paint that day was to be there for her. I’d already had dozens of other people stop and watch me paint, their kids were enthralled and wanted to stay and keep watching. I understood that part of my service as a public artist is to show others my face as the artist archetype. There seems to be lots of artists painting in public in Europe. It might help further an understanding and appreciation of the arts in America and Canada if more people were to paint in public here too.
Teaching for free
by June Szueber, Perris, CA, USA
I’m a volunteer teaching in a private school. It’s wonderful to be free from meetings and lesson plans and know that you can give children something that is important in life and which they would not otherwise have. It forces me to draw everyday and keep my mind alive. I have never before been as aware of how much information about a wide range of subject matter an artist needs in order to function. I’ve always hated the expression, “Those that can, do, and those that cannot, teach.” Those who teach are the real scholars — lovers of learning and research — as well as the doers. I once had a teacher tell me, “You get out of your art what you are willing to give up for it.”
“To teach them this Art”
by Kate McKulla, Mountain Lakes, NJ, USA
Howard Pyle is not a man I’m familiar with. But, I am familiar with his teaching methods. He works out of the Hippocratic Oath. In that: “I will keep this oath and this syngraphe to consider him who taught me this Art as dear to me as my parent, to share my substance with him, and to relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring as equivalent to my own brothers, and to teach them this Art, if they wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation.”
I’ve recently come to understand that “the Art” in the Hippocratic Oath is not just about scientific medicine, but the medicinal qualities of Art. Each of us, as individuals, are given gifts. Healing comes through art just as much, if not moreso, as through modern medicine.
When one finds that student; the one who can hear and see and touch and feel what it is that you are offering, there should not be any consideration of charging a fee. These souls are exactly why we were born into our art and craft. Free of charge. Carrying on the legacy.
Howard Pyle’s lineage
by Jeff Byrd
I especially enjoyed the discussion on Howard Pyle. Where did you get his list of rules? I would like the reference please.
It had never occurred to me until I read your letter that I am of the “lineage” of Howard Pyle. Howard Pyle mentored Harvey Dunn. Harvey Dunn mentored/taught Ralph Barksdale. And Ralph Barksdale taught me. It gives me encouragement to be reminded of this artistic heritage.
(RG note) Regarding reference material, the best book I’ve found so far is Howard Pyle, by Henry C. Pitz. When I read a biography like this I try to gist the main ideas so that I get an understanding of where the artist is coming from. The “list of rules” that you mention is my own gleaning of what I found to be Howard Pyle’s key ideas. Another excellent book that gives short biographical material on many of the great American illustrators is The Illustrator in America, 1880-1980 by Walt and Roger Reed. It’s a big, beautiful picture book and each entry has one or more typical illustrations of an artist’s work. There are top-notch colour reproductions and short essays on the trends of each decade written by the likes of Benjamin Eisenstat, Harold Von Schmidt, Norman Rockwell, Al Parker, Bernard Fuchs, Murray Tinkelman, and others.
Regarding gisting, another thing that I notice in writings about and by Pyle are the frequent references to his mother. He seems to be saying: “Get yourself a strong and supportive mother.” Pyle’s mother Margaret checked his writing and critiqued his work. In looking closely at his early paintings you can see areas that appear to be covered over or modified — perhaps at the advice of his mother. One thing for sure is that, at least in the early days, Margaret had a good eye, and he knew it. Pyle’s wife Anne was also a major creative force in his life. — “A marriage made in heaven,” suggests Henry Pitz.
In my list I noted Howard Pyle’s idea of getting art instruction close to home. For the most part Pyle traveled little and seemed to rather make up his castles rather than go to Europe and check them out. But the last year of his life (1911) was an eye-opener for him. The family rented a villa in Italy. As noted in our Resource of Art Quotations, Pyle wrote to his friend Stanley Arthurs: “I take back everything I ever said about the Old Masters. You can learn a lot from them.”
Love at the center
by Xochitl S. Barnes, Flemington, NJ, USA
I love New York City to the depths of my soul. It is truly the center of the universe. I was born there and left at 7 years old, but those first years imprinted my being with her singular song and my soul vibrates in tune with New York’s unique frequency. I feel at one with “place” and when I am there it is “home.” A special thing is to stand beneath the Great Tree at Rock Center late on Christmas eve and feel yourself at The True Center. I remember the Christmas of 2001. It was different. There were so very many people there, and as one exchanged glances with this great human diversity there was such a feeling of love in that place that I wished I could reach out and touch each one.
“Please stop by” dept.
by Tara Dixon, Brooklyn, NY, USA
I’ve been subscribing to your letter for the past year and a half and have enjoyed it so much. It has given me the art company and conversation I desire. Please stop by and say hi in person. My studio (image) is in Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) It has views of the bridges and of course the river. I’m an abstract painter and have a studio-mate who is a representational painter — we make a good pair.
(RG note) I’d like to thank the hundreds of artists in the New York area who emailed to invite me over while I was there. Although I took up very few on the invitation — it is truly great to know that there are so many that I feel I can genuinely call “friends.” Thank you for this feeling.
The Shrine (SJC)
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2004.
That includes Patricia Canney who wrote, “I liked these words o’ wisdom from Howard Pyle… I thought they applied to a writer as well as painter. I like number four — your “visual art books” as a help for your “word art” rather than the other way around for a painter.”